Inquest collapsed by state cover-up
Inquest collapsed by state cover-up


Orders by British state agencies to suppress information about their role in the 1997 murder of Gaelic sports official Sean Brown have led a coroner to abandon his inquest and call for a public inquiry instead.

Coroner Patrick Kinney abandoned his long-frustrated inquest and confirmed he intends to write to British Direct Ruler Chris Heaton-Harris to ask for a public inquiry.

The development came after British state agencies, including local police and British military intelligence, made applications for several documents to be suppressed in the name of ‘public interest’.

‘Public inquest immunity’ (PII) certificates are used by British state agencies to conceal information about things they want to remain secret.

At the dramatic hearing on Monday, March 4, there was standing room only as family members were joined by senior figures from Gaelic sports, including GAA President Jarlath Burns.

Mr Brown’s daughters, holding framed pictures of their father, flanked their 86-year-old mother Bridie as coroner Patrick Kinney described the failure of state agencies to “properly assist” the inquest as “deplorable and frankly inexcusable”.

A father of five and a prominent figure in the nationalist community, Sean Brown was brutally attacked, beaten and abducted by a death squad as he locked the gates at Bellaghy Wolfe Tones Gaelic sports club in County Derry in May 1997. After being placed in the boot of his own car, he was taken to a country lane outside Randalstown, County Antrim, where he was shot six times.

State collusion in the murder has been exposed, and it emerged on Monday that a police surveillance operation on key suspect Mark ‘Swinger’ Fulton, a notorious member of the paramilitary LVF in Mid Ulster, was stopped for the night of the murder.

A total of 25 suspects have been identified in the killing, including a number of state agents.

It was also revealed that MI5 has applied for three PII certificates to suppress information on its role in the Brown murder and those involved who were on its payroll.

It has previously claimed it has “no record of any intelligence” relating to the murder. Other secrecy orders have been issued by the PSNI.

At earlier hearings it was confirmed that one of the state agents believed to be involved in the killing was a serving member of the British Army’s Royal Irish Regiment.

During Monday’s hearing Des Fahy, acting for the Brown family, said “hundreds” of redactions of documents had been made by both the PSNI and MI5.

Justice Kinney heavily criticised the way the state parties had handled the disclosure process, branding repeated delays “deplorable and, frankly, inexcusable”.

He said the extent of material he had been forced to exempt from being used as evidence at the inquest meant he could not comply with his statutory duty to investigate the circumstances of Mr Brown’s death.

“I am satisfied that my duty to carry out a full, fair and fearless investigation into Mr Brown’s death is seriously compromised as issues of central importance to the death cannot be dealt with by the inquest process,” he said.

The coroner said he was unable to make a “proper analysis” of the material that had been redacted as a result of the secrecy orders.

“In those circumstances, and with considerable regret, I have concluded that I cannot continue with this inquest,” he said.

“To do so would inevitably result in an inquest that would be incomplete, inadequate, and misleading.”

Justice Kinney acknowledged that his decision would cause “further pain and anguish” for Mr Brown’s family.

The coroner said he expected a reply from the British government on his request for a public inquiry within four weeks.

He said Mr Brown was an “entirely innocent man” who was subject to a “planned execution”, but that he could not provide a satisfactory answer to the family’s question as to why he was murdered.

Lawyer Niall Murphy said the Brown family asked “why has MI5 sought three (PII) certificates on the grounds of national security, from a total of five PII applications, signed by the Secretary of State.

“What is it that MI5 have to hide from the family and indeed wider society?

“Who was it that decided that the surveillance on Mark Fulton be lifted the day before Sean’s murder?

“How many of the 25 suspects who were state agents at the time of the murder were serving RUC or RIR members?”

The collapse of the inquest has raised concern that others may also have to be abandoned. British state agencies have been deliberately trying to ‘run down the clock’ on inquests ahead of the May 1 deadline before legislation takes effect to implement a cover-up of British war crimes in the north of Ireland. The PSNI this week caused the further postponement of another inquest, where collusion is also alleged, because of its failure to produce vital information.

Barrister for the Brown family Des Fahy KC said that, while they did not want the Brown inquest to stop, they accepted the ruling. He said the family’s reaction was a mixture of “sadness and anger”.

“This is not a legal process where the Brown family is frustrated because they have not been able to find out the truth about the murder of Sean Brown,” he said.

“That’s because the truth about what happened is right here in these folders of sensitive material about the murder, but it can’t come out and it can’t be revealed by you (the coroner) because of the many hundreds of redactions that have been made by the Chief Constable of the PSNI and by the security services.”

Mr Fahy said one file contained 56 pages and each one of those pages had been completely blanked out, meaning “not a word of evidence” is being made public.

He said in another file, 15 out of 15 pages were similarly entirely blanked out.

The legal counsel said the Brown family viewed that approach to redaction as an “affront to the principles of open justice and fairness”.

“The truth of what happened to Sean Brown is not some intangible thing, far off in the distance,” he said. “It’s here and available if only the state parties would allow it to be revealed.”

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